Category Archives: Google/Tech/Corporate Cafes

Google’s Culinary Star Power

Google's first executive chef. (Photo courtesy of Charlie Ayers)

If you ever had any doubts about the caliber of food those lucky Googlers get to nosh on for free, check out my story in the new December issue of San Francisco Magazine.

Charlie Ayers got the ball rolling in 1999 when he became the first executive chef at the Mountain View headquarters of that search engine giant. The delicious foundation he established helped nurture and lure a host of culinary stars. Now, Ayers is set to open his first restaurant, Calafia Cafe and Market A Go-Go in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village. Although anticipated to open this month, due to construction delays, it will most likely open in January now.

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Read What Former Google Chef Charlie Ayers Is Up To

Former Google Chef Charlie Ayers. Photo courtesy of Mr. Ayers.

It wasn’t always easy to please his big bosses at Google in Mountain View, says Chef Charlie Ayers, who was hired as employee #53.

After all, back in 1999-2004, those guys working there weren’t exactly big-time foodies. Google co-founder Larry Page had a thing for Subway sandwiches, and for some reason, a vehement dislike of jerky. Even free-range, artisan-made, bison jerky, which Ayers learned about the hard way. 

Ayers once put some out in the free-snacks area, and the engineers gorged themselves on it. But the next day, Ayers found the remainder of the jerky on his desk. “Larry didn’t want me to serve it,” Ayers says. “The only thing he said was, ‘I don’t like it.’ I thought, ‘Okayyyyy….I’ll just figure that one out on my own.”

Then there was the time he thought his bonus check had a mistake in it. He thought there were too many zeroes in it. Ayers’ bonus was tied directly to the number of employees who stayed on campus to eat. So Ayers asked his boss, who looked over the check and said, “This is correct. And if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, there will be plenty more where that came from.”

Ayers wasn’t the only one who was incredulous. His sous chef also thought the bonus check he had received must be wrong. He showed it to Ayers who deadpanned, “No, this is correct. And if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, there will be plenty more where that came from.”

Enjoy more fun with Ayers in my column, “A Girl’s Gotta Eat” in today’s Metro. Read all about his newest project, the eco-friendly Calafia Cafe and Market A Go Go in the Palo Alto Town & Country Village, which is expected to open in November.

(Note: Because the Metro is late in posting the column on its online site, the column also appears at the end of this FoodGal posting, right after the recipe.)

For those who want to turn up the heat while reading, here’s a fiery recipe from Ayers’ new cookbook,
“Food 2.0, Secrets From the Chef Who Fed Google” (DK Publishing).

Google Hot Sauce

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Another Former Google Chef Defecting to Apple

Two months ago, Food Gal reported that Nate Keller, former executive chef at Google’s Mountain View headquarters, had moved to Google’s Bridges cafe near San Francisco’s Embarcadero. But that gig didn’t last long, as he up and quit before he’d even gotten his chef jacket buttoned.

Now, the word is out on his new whereabouts. Keller is heading to Apple in Cupertino, according to sources. He will be joining his former compatriot, John Dickman, who left as global food services director for Google in March to join Apple.

Mmm, me thinks Apple must be sweetening the deal with plenty of stock certificates, and a lifetime supply of iPhones and iPods to lure so much corporate culinary talent. One thing’s for sure, Google’s now going to have to work harder to hold on to its claim of having the gourmet cafeteria with the mostest.

Are You What You Cook?

That’s the thought-provoking title of the Asian cuisine event, 6 p.m. July 21, upstairs at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Join Chef Kelly Degala of Pres A Vi in San Francisco and Va de Vi in Walnut Creek; Eric Gower, author of “The Breakaway Cook”(William Morrow); Michelle Mah, former executive chef of Ponzu in San Francisco; Kirti Pant, executive chef of Junnoon in Palo Alto; and Chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. They will talk about how they developed their signature styles.

Appetizers will be served, along with wines from Filipino-American estate winery, Eden Canyon Vineyards.

Tickets are $35 for general admission; $25 for full-time students and those in the restaurant trade. To register, click here.

The event is a kick-off for the Oct. 10-12 Asian Food Beyond Borders symposium at the Ferry Building. The event is being spearheaded by Bay Areans Andrea Nguyen, author of “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen”(Ten Speed Press), and cooking instructor and Asian foods expert, Thy Tran.

The three-day event will celebrate how Asian communities have created dynamic cuisines around the globe. Among the speakers will be: cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey; Public Television star Martin Yan; Google cafe chef and former San Francisco Chronicle food writer Olivia Wu; and James Oseland, editor in chief of Saveur magazine.

Yours truly also will be overseeing an Oct. 11 wine-pairing seminar hosted by Edwin Soon, oenologist and author of “Asian Food With Wine” (Tide-Mark Press), at Le Colonial restaurant in San Francisco. For more information, click here.

My Lunch At Google

Cucumber-seaweed salad, assorted vegetable kimchee, and chrysanthemum greens with tofu.

If you’ve been wondering what happened to that wonderful San Francisco Chronicle food writer, Olivia Wu, she didn’t go far in miles, but she did do quite the about-face in her career.

Wu put down her pen and notepad to free her hands for some bonafide cooking. Since early this year, she’s been an executive chef at one of Google’s famed cafes in Mountain View. At her Oasis Cafe, she oversees a staff of 26, who turn out more than 600 meals a day for hungry Googlers.

A former caterer, private chef, newspaper reporter, music teacher, and yoga instructor, Wu says one reason she took the job was for the challenge to expand the palates and horizons of this young, techie crowd. As one of her wholesale distributors said of her in awe, “She’s cooking Chinese food. Real Chinese food!”

Forget visions of chow mein and egg rolls. Think steamed fresh fish, pork hash with pungent salted fish, homemade lemongrass tea, and fresh juice from young coconuts cracked to order. Or the menu the day she graciously invited me to come for lunch last week: cold salads of chrysanthemum greens and tofu, cucumber-seaweed, cranberry shelling beans flavored with shiso, assorted vegetable kimchee, and 5-spice beef cut from the succulent shin bone. The hot selections that day included: spicy ma po tofu, melt-in-your-mouth crystal pork (steamed pork shoulder drizzled with a soy-garlic-sugar sauce), and stir-fried broccoli. If that wasn’t enough, there was also house-made bubble tea with fresh, peeled lychees bobbing in it.

Ma po tofu, crystal pork, fried rice, and stir-fried broccoli.

Wu uses as many organic ingredients as possible (including the tofu), and only serves sustainable seafood. She’s even added a few traditional big round tables with lazy-susans to the seating area to encourage more synergy among Googlers as they dine.

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